Persona 4 Golden PS4 Review. After previously being trapped on the PlayStation 2 and the sadly defunct PlayStation Vita for years, Persona 4 Golden makes its way to modern consoles. Is it still worth tuning into all this time later? Or has Persona 5 stolen the game’s fans’ hearts? Find out in PlayStation Universe’s review.
It’s pretty staggering that Persona 3 and 4 didn’t make the jump to modern systems a lot sooner after the meteoric rise of the franchise that Persona 5 caused nearly seven whole years ago. The concern with taking so long to reintroduce these earlier entries to the world is that more and more of their personal shine might wear off the stronger Persona 5’s grip on the public consciousness got.
I’m happy to report, Persona 4 Golden still has a lot of its sparkle, and that’s largely thanks to the winning formula of the series and the new fine-tuning the game has undergone to make it a more palatable playing experience.
Persona 4 Golden (PS4) Review – Atlus’ Classic RPG Should Get a Good Reception From a Modern Audience
Before that though, what is Persona 4 all about? Yu Narukami is a big city teen student who is dropped into the relatively sleepy town of Inaba to stay with his uncle and cousin whilst his parents travel abroad for a year. The most important thing Yu should have to worry about is settling into his new school, but rural life isn’t as mundane as it ought to be in Inaba.
Not long after Yu’s arrival, a reporter is found dead, hanging from an antenna. The schoolgirl that finds her subsequently ends up dead in much the same way, and now mutterings of an urban legend about a mysterious television channel are bubbling up. A channel that seems to show the potential victims of a murder spree. These things come together when Yu and his newfound friends discover a hidden world within the television that could well be connected to the recent killings.
This shadow world is filled with monsters and its look is determined by whatever the dominant personality is in it. If Persona 5 was you entry point into the series,then it’s not much different from the Palaces in that game and how they manifest. The difference here is they take on aspects of a sinister force’s latest target rather than that of a corrupt adults who need a metaversal epiphany.
Yu and his friends eventually take to the shadow world in search of answers to the mystery behind the killings, and in hopes of preventing the death of another fellow student. In these early hours, the player is introduced to the overall structure to both real world and shadow world interaction they’ll be following over the next 70-100 hour – from the awakening of Personas to social interactions.
There’s of course the small matter of getting to know the cast of characters that inhabit Inaba in that time. Some will be allies in Yu’s battles within the TV dimension, others will be constants in the real world. As with any Persona game, the colossal amount of time spent with your allies will inevitably bring about favourites, and what I’m sure will be entirely subjective arguments about which character is best.
A Collection Of Memorable Personalities
Much as it is with Persona 5, it’s easier to get attached to the characters introduced earlier in the game than it is for the later entrants, and the ‘adorable mascot’ party member (Teddie, a waddling hollow bear-like creature) will probably annoy more than endear for most.
Yu’s first friends are the accident-prone doofus Yosuke Hanamura and the fiery, high-energy Chie Satonaka. Yosuke is a pretty safe introduction to the what will be Yu’s party members going forward, but he benefits from the layers story progression brings to his personality. Chie, on the other hand, is one of the series’ strongest characters from the off. A bright and brash bundle of energy that does more to help settle Yu and the player into Inaba’s inner workings than anything else. So yeah, there’s my favourite and entirely subjective opinion on who’s best.
That’s not to say Persona 4 doesn’t have anything else to offer in terms of its cast. Yu’s young cousin Nanako is an adorable bright light in an otherwise grim time. It’s very difficult to get her sing-song rendition of the Junes megastore’s catchy theme tune out of your head. Out of all non-party members, her impact on your time in Inaba is felt most strongly of all.
Later party character’s generally come good as you dive deeper into their personal tales, but there’s some muddy stuff in how those stories get handled along the way. Kanji’s story is the standout example of this, as what could have been something with real emotional heft for the character is fumbled in a manner that wasn’t exactly ascent in Persona 5 at times either. You expect some whiffed shots in stories that take literal days to get through, but it’d be a lot more comforting I’m sure if the biggest whiffs were in something far more trivial than the journey of important characters.
Still, the bond that forms between the player and the core group is such a delightfully engrossing part of Persona’s appeal that it is possible to offset some misgivings. The original game is 15 years old at this point, and with that comes a begrudging acceptance that games have changed massively in that time in so many ways. It doesn’t make it more palatable, but there’s an understanding as to why here that Persona 5’s own shortcomings can be quite as easily excused for.
Compelling Murder Mystery Slightly Let Down By Pedestrian Dungeon Battling
The structure of Persona 4 Golden sees Yu going about everyday life whilst progressing the story that surrounds the murders that occur on foggy days. The focus on its otherworldly murder mystery in a small town is a really interesting hook for the game, and the increasing connection made with the otherworldly implications of this spree have the same thrilling effect as a good page-turner of a murder mystery novel.
The real world threat of consequence for the gang not reaching the end point of each case carries a very specific kind of weight that may not directly impact the party themselves, but the making it about saving a single person each time brings a personal responsibility.
The dungeon battling side of Persona 4 is pretty pedestrian by current standards. The dungeons have varied looks depending on whose mind is creating them, but the layouts and visual design are touch lacking these days. The controls remain a bit too fiddly when trying to sneak up on monsters in order to gain an advantage in the upcoming battle, and once the novelty of a dungeon’s shctick has worn off, it begins to feel repetitive.
The relative uncertainty of how long you might have to save someone before they die in the real world can push you into trying to tackle a stack of floors in a dungeon when the pacing would be better suited to smaller bites between the outside world stuff you can do.
A saving grace for this issue is a quick-save function that’s been implemented whilst in dungeons so you don’t have to find an in-game save point or exit before ending a session. The save is only viable until you next start the game, so you can keep returning to these particular instances like you do with manual saves, but it does chop up the slog of lengthy dungeon runs without tapping out early.
Welcome Changes Make Persona 4 Golden On PS4 The Best Version Yet
On the subject of changes, the ability to choose a preferred difficulty from the off is wholly welcome. Previous versions did not let you select a difficulty until after you finished the game, so now it’s opened up to a wider variety of player abilities from the start. It gets easier to introduce someone to the game with a smoother, higher resolution performance and the chance to revisit key scenes and choose different answers to certain questions.
Overall, Persona 4 Golden may not be the striking refinement of the series’ formula its successor has become, but it’s never been more accessible to modern audiences.
Persona 4 Golden is due out on PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One on January 19, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.